of God is
Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, along
with many others, have referred to the influence that this work,
written by Leo Tolstoy, has had on their psyche, and subsequent
permanent change in their state of mind. The selected excerpt, from
this much larger writing, reveal Tolstoy's philosophy regarding
the literal interpretation of Christ’s teachings and his fundamental
ideas on nonviolent resistance.
Leo Tolstoy, or Count Lev Nikolayevich
Tolstoy was a Russian writer widely regarded as one of the greatest
of all novelists. His masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina
stand, in their scope, breadth and vivid depiction of 19th-century
Russian life, at the very peak of realist fiction.
Read more on Wikipedia.
Comment by Etienne Domingue
Question: “The Kingdom of God is
Within You” has turned out to be one of my favorite titles
albeit it is only an excerpt from the original book. I was absolutely
baffled when I discovered that Tolstoy’s spiritual and philosophical
basis was almost 180 degrees opposed to that of Nietzsche. It would
be interesting to hear your view on the matter.
by Etienne Domingue: As for the work itself, I am certainly
not an expert on Tolstoy and so I do not presume to have understood
it all. I can nevertheless attempt to summarize my opinions of it,
though I should warn you some of them may be misguided, due to the
incompleteness of my acquaintance with Tolstoy's work and the limitations
of my intelligence in general.
in thought and affiliation of Tolstoy and Nietzsche require no extrapolation,
but I think it is perhaps interesting to point out that both thinkers
were fiercely opposed to the idea of the "Church" as a
doctrinally static, socially elitist community of believers. Nietzsche,
after all, called churches "the tombs of God."
It goes without
saying that Tolstoy's perspectives are challenging, even to present
day audiences, be they Christian or not. I sympathize with his critique
of sectarianism -- although I disagree with the position that Christ
did not Himself seek to establish the Church, as this is explicitly
stated in Scriptures (Matt. 16:18, Matt.18). I think that Tolstoy's
take on Christ's teachings -- of the distinction between precept
and ideal, are very much in keeping with the humanity of the Christian
On the other
hand, I have a great deal of difficulty with Tolstoy's flat rejection
of ritual tradition and mysticism, which seems to me too reductionistic.
Rituals have a purpose -- that of connecting with the sacred dimension,
an aspect of religious life which Tolstoy does not seem to appreciate.
There are elements of religion which lie outside the grasp of mere
reason, and those can only be approached in reverence through symbolically
meaningful gestures, inadequate though they might seem to the discriminating
rejection of mysticism seems to moreover downplay the importance
of Grace in favour of human capabilities, and to intellectualize
Christianity's message. I take offense at the notion that humanity
progresses, as it were organically and linearly, through stages
which lead to an eventual global Christianization -- something which
Tolstoy posits, seemingly in imitation of Hegel's doctrine of the
movement of the Spirit. This seems unfair to the Ancients, who may
be said to have moved at times closer and at times further from
a universally life-affirming philosophy which we might as well call
"the Truth." Tolstoy is also somewhat contemptuous of
Judaism in his blanket condemnation of the moral incongruities of
the Old Testament, and in his attempt to portray Christ as a complete
disconnect from previous history and philosophy. The fact of the
matter is, the Gospels present Jesus' life as well situated within
the historical and philosophical context of the Middle East under
a Roman rule, a maelström of millenary traditions. Unless Christians
are to see a great deal less wisdom in the designs of their God,
it simply does not do to view the circumstances of Christ's Incarnation
as a mere accident.
miracles as adding more perplexity to the Christian message and
making its salvific contents less evident is a rather counter intuitive
argument one might expect from someone who puts more stock in Reason
than in Faith -- an attitude which is repeatedly criticized in both
the Old and the New Testament.
find Tolstoy's critique of Kant etc. almost laughable. The plain
truth of Christ's teachings is nowhere obvious to me, and like all
"literalisms" Tolstoy's hermeneutics -- though compelling
-- end up disqualifying themselves. Reading is an interpretative
act, and so one cannot, on one hand, criticize earlier thinkers
for extrapolating upon the Scriptures and on the other hand promote
one's own reading as "unadorned" Gospel truth. In my opinion,
the closest we might come to "pure" Gospel is reading
in context, something which Tolstoy categorically refuses to do
as he invalidates the "mere circumstances" of Jesus' life.
All other approaches to the Scriptures would be influenced by the
language of translation, the reader's socio-economic context, etc.
More comments by Etienne Domingue
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